Bitter Internal Election Threatens to Split Former Governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional

Article excerpt

The former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) is in danger of fracturing following a bitter and divisive election for leadership of the party. The election, held Feb. 24, ended in what leaders called a "technical tie," with former Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo Pintado and federal Deputy Beatriz Paredes Rangel each claiming to have received a little more than half the votes cast for party president. Paredes is also a former governor of Tlaxcala state.

Exit polls conducted by the PRI had shown Paredes' share of the vote ranging from 48.4% to 52.2% and Madrazo's from 47.8% to 51.6%.

A recount of all ballots indicated that Madrazo received a few thousand more votes than Paredes. The two candidates exchanged leads several times during the vote count, and Madrazo had pulled ahead by 59,000 votes with results from most of the states tabulated. But Paredes' overwhelming support in Mexico City and Mexico state narrowed the difference to 12,000 votes.

PRI officials expected to officially declare a winner on Feb. 27, but the many challenges brought to election organizers have delayed the final report. A final tally of all votes posted Feb. 27 at PRI headquarters indicated that Madrazo had taken 1.6% more votes than Paredes. Some insiders suggested the slight possibility that the election might be voided and rescheduled.

Madrazo and Paredes promised at the start of the campaign to hold clean elections and tried to distance themselves from the party's history of electoral corruption. But they ended up accusing each other of resorting to tactics used often by the PRI in its 73-year history, including voter bribery and misinformation. For example, the Madrazo camp cited Paredes' efforts to gain votes in poor neighborhoods by passing out bags of food.

Beatriz Paredes may contest Roberto Madrazo's apparent victory

Paredes' strongest charge against Madrazo came on election day, when she accused him of manufacturing 20,000 votes in Oaxaca state through computer manipulation. Charging massive fraud in Oaxaca, the Paredes camp demanded that the election be voided and rescheduled. There were also questions about results in Mexico state, San Luis Potosi, and Madrazo's home state of Tabasco.

The newspaper Milenio Diario reported that the Madrazo camp also used unethical election-day tactics through a process described as a "tapon" or bottle cap. Under this scheme, the Madrazo camp released misleading information on polling stations in states and municipalities where Paredes was expected to have strong support, thus reducing the vote in these areas.

Sen. Humberto Roque Villanueva, who presided over the election, had promised that the PRI would annul the election if audits determined evidence of tampering in 30% or more of the polling stations set up by the party.

PRI reports larger-than-expected participation

PRI officials attempted to put a positive spin on the election by portraying it as part of the democratization of the party. Until now, party leaders have been appointed by Mexico's president, who for more than 70 years happened to be a PRI member. The PRI lost the presidency in 2000 to the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), represented by former Guanajuato Gov. Vicente Fox (see SourceMex, 2000-07- 05).

Sen. Roque pointed out that more than 3 million voters cast ballots in the election, which was open to registered voters of all parties. Voter turnout was double the 1.5 million participants party leaders had anticipated.

The heated election created enough of a rift between the two camps to raise concerns of a split in the PRI. Shortly after the election, political allies of Madrazo and Paredes reportedly filed papers with the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) seeking permission to create new political parties.

Outgoing party president Dulce Maria Sauri said she was not concerned about losing some party members. …